The end of the Eastern Partnership Riga Summit showed the failing of this program and the crisis in EU’s Eastern policy. During the summit’s end, the West fully embraced the idea that it is impossible to build relations with former USSR republics on ideological foundations, while ignoring the specifics of each single post-Soviet republic and their century-old ties with Russia. The Baltics, who were insisting that it was possible, now witness the complete and utter failure of their policy after the Riga Summit.
“Overall, Riga has left a feeling that this summit was the last of this form. And European politicians, as well as the six partner-states’ representatives, voiced a desire for more “differentiation”. Before, they were nominally divided into two groups: countries who want to be EU members (Moldova, Georgia, Ukraine), and everybody else. As the démarches of Belarus and Armenia showed, there is not merely a divide in the Eastern Partnership, but a crack,” writes the German paper Deutche Welle in its article titled “Riga Balsam for Ukraine or the Eastern Partnership Cracks”. “The second defeat of Ukraine in Riga was in Belarus and Armenia’s actions. During the first day of the summit, information leaked to the press that they refuse to approve the Joint Statement text if it will contain words on Crimea’s annexation by Russia. Long hours of the European leaders trying to dissuade them did not yield results.”
The member-states also have mixed feelings from the Eastern Partnership Riga Summit: foreign observers as well as anti-Russian-leaning authors from these countries admit the disappointment in the current EU cohesion program. “The West shows less and less intent of integrating with Georgia, which is disappointing to the country’s people,” writes The Financial Times, “The lifting of the import ban on a series of Georgian goods has helped the country’s economic growth. Aside from that, Georgian farmers started to see Russia and not in the EU as the more promising market. Georgian politicians and experts also note the increased standing of pro-Russian political groups.”
Dissatisfaction and the vacuum of meaning are the main takeaways from the concluded Summit. Its organizers applied the utmost effort so that the Summit’s results would be the least acceptable and didn’t give reasons to talk of failure. But the results still can’t satisfy anyone aside from the Brussels bureaucrats, who are content with formal results to prove that a job was well done.
In Riga, Ukraine and Georgia were promised a situation monitoring in these countries and if the situation would satisfy the European Commission’s criteria, then maybe the people of these countries, no – not a non-visa regime, but allowed to be on EU territory no more than three months a year. Moldova already has this practice: now Europeans have this presented as a non-visa regime. But for millions of Ukrainians and Georgians dreaming of fleeing their homeland to live and work in Europe, it would have been easier to hear nothing at all than to hear the promise of permitting a three-month no-visa stay per year in the EU.
The results of the summit itself are dubious for everyone, who wanted to give the event an anti-Russian role call style – making the summit into a demonstration of anti-Russian solidarity across all of Europe and all of the post-Soviet space. Ukrainian diplomats under full support of the summit host Latvia and other Baltic colleagues fought for weeks in order to make the joint statement text glaringly Russophobic.
They fought, which is important, with representatives of the majority of the other EU countries, who didn’t want their names tied to the next Russophobe hysteria from Eastern Europe.
In the end, the statement turned out neither this, nor that. The word “Russia” is mentioned only once: “They emphasise the importance of the EU's continued role in facilitating gas talks between Russia and Ukraine that will contribute to underpinning the stable, sufficient and uninterrupted gas flow to Europe.” On one hand, the defeat of those who wanted to reformat the program – to get Russia to participate. On the other hand, the plans of those who wanted to make the Riga Summit an all-European approval of the stream of Russophobe rhetoric also failed: the one time Russia is mentioned is the EU’s promise to assist in gas talks. This statement falls woefully short of being a Fulton Speech.
However, there is a phrase about the “Crimea annexation”. But the condemnation of Russia was also less than convincing: “The EU reaffirms its positions taken in the Joint Statement made at the EU-Ukraine Summit on 27 April, including on the illegal annexation of Crimea and Sevastopol.” So the Eastern Partnership countries didn’t put their names under the “annexation”. The final version of the text was a result of compromise: Belarus and Armenia threatened to outright not sign the statement if they will ask to sign under the “annexation” of Crimea. Instead of unanimous bashing of a country, which is barely mentioned in the document, which all of the Lithuanians, Latvians and Ukrainians participants dreamed of, they got a demonstration of the disagreements between EU and participants of the Eastern Partnership states.
The one, who definitely suffered a fiasco of the Riga Summit, was Baltic diplomacy. Lithuania and the host of the summit – Latvia.
First, all countries participating signed under the demand to follow the Minsk Agreements to the letter, a completely peaceful way to settle the conflict in the Eastern Partnership region and even thanked Belarus for its work on mediating and peacekeeping. And only three months ago, it was popular and completely okay for the West to entertain the idea of sending NATO weapons to the Ukrainian army in order to advance the military operations in Donbass. Right now, that idea is being brushed aside by everyone, including the United States. And Lithuania, like an idiot, has already banked…
Second, Latvia’s personal contribution in the Summit’s success was to be the planned Belarussian president Alexander Lukashenko’s visit to Riga. Throughout Spring, Latvia Foreign Ministry has engaged into a diplomatic game with Minsk about it.
In the end, Lukashenko didn’t just not visit Riga, instead he actually criticized the Eastern Partnership and everyone who promoted the program itself.
“The events in Ukraine should have taught us to value peace. We need to look at what is important, fix the problem, including in Ukraine and in other states. No, we gather at the Eastern Partnership. And what? In every document bash Russia directly or indirectly,” said the Belarussian president of the Riga Summit, “Why must we be against Russia?... We can’t support a position like that, because today it is important not to accuse someone, we have enough accusations, we need to bring peace to this country and its people. We want we would bring peace from our land as well. That is the essence of our policy”.
Alexander Lukashenko in his own way once again confirmed that Belarus will always stand for the Eastern Partnership not being aimed against a specific country, and if Russia is not part of the program, they “shouldn’t bash it for things, Crimea included, in absentia.” Apparently, the Latvian diplomats in international consultations proposed that Belarus did exactly that: “bashed Russia in absentia” in exchange for some kind of benefits for Belarus from the EU. Lukashenko listened to all of it… and just didn’t come to Riga. In addition, at the last moment the president of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev refused to participate in the Riga Summit.
Third, Riga marked a fiasco of the Baltic republics’ fetish idea of creating an all-European “counter-propaganda” TV channel in Russian, which they have been talking about for almost a year, - there was no mention of a TV channel in the joint statement.
So if Ukraine at least got the consolation prize of 1.8 billion euro, which will help its sinking economy stay afloat for a while longer, the Baltic countries just have to keep smiling as the game goes sour for them.
Because this is the death of the Eastern Partnership’s means – this is what the commentaries of politicians, experts and journalists of various views and multiple countries talk about after the Riga Summit. EU’s priority Eastern policy can no longer consist of a program, which divides the post-Soviet space where it hurts the most, provoking wars and political crisis, working with all program member-states as one being, refusing to see the unique and specific in each of them, replacing a clear view of the world with ideological dogmas of “holding back Russia’s imperial ambitions”
And the death of the Eastern Partnership’s means the strategic failure of the Baltic states, whose foreign policy philosophy was expressed in this program.
Their diplomacy is no longer EU’s Eastern policy. Now if Lithuania will continue to follow its messianic ambitions on the post-Soviet space, positioning itself as a “democracy exporter” speaking for all of Europe, then Europe will have all of the right to call Lithuania and other Baltic countries out on this and tell them that they don’t even represent them.
Translated by: Pavel Shamshiev.